I was recently invited to try Walks of New York's new Disney on Broadway: Behind the Magic at the New Amsterdam Theatre tour. The Broadway theater district is one section of New York City I know very little about, save a few stories about what it was like to dance with the Ziegfeld Follies from my grandmother. My only hesitation about joining a tour with Disney in the name was that it would be geared towards children. Would I be too old to play dress-up and don the costumes of my favorite Disney on Broadway characters?
Our tour guide, Jeff Dobbins, is the founder and editor of Adventures in Culture. His experience living in New York City, tour guiding and working in the theater industry as a house manager provided the group with great insight into the theater biz. We wandered through Times Square and down 42nd street, pausing in front of landmarks to compare old photographs with the current buildings. From the 597 seat Helen Hayes Theater, to the 1,900 seat Gershwin Theater (where Wicked is currently playing), I found it most fascinating to learn the 76 Broadway theaters range greatly in size .
We continued on to the New Amsterdam Theater, one of the oldest surviving Broadway theaters, where Disney Theatrical guides Kimberly, Brian, and Carla joined us. Unlike a recent Bachelorette episode, we were not able to go anywhere near the stage nor take photos of it (something to do with copyright).
I gained better appreciation for the theater's unique Baux Arts exterior and Art Nouveau interior as Kimberly pointed out features that had otherwise gone unnoticed by my 12 year-old self on a school field trip to see The Lion King many years ago. We learned more about the theater's history, including its restoration into its current state of grandeur and the renaissance the entire neighborhood went through in the 1990's.
Last minute theatergoers can always try for the $40 ticket lottery, held around 2.5 hours prior to the show. It's cash only and a photo ID is required. For more advice on discounted tickets, check out Jeff's blog post.
The highlight was at the end of the tour, when we entered the Disney on Broadway archive room. It was filled with costumes and props from shows such as Beauty & The Beast, Mary Poppins, The Lion King, Newsies, and The Little Mermaid. Kimberly discussed each section before we were set free to explore (and dress up) on our own. I was amazed to feel how light the carbon graphite headpieces Simba and Nala wear (4 ounces!). At $7,000 each, that's one prop you don't want to drop!
I would discourage seeing a musical on a Wednesday night because that's usually the night the lead has off. Sunday matinees are a great time to see a show because they're often more affordable, but beware: the crowd will likely be tourists.
In all, we spent about 2.5 to 3 hours walking and chatting. Given the discussions around Times Square's shady past and the overall distraction and commotion of New York City streets, I would actually recommend this tour for families with children age 11+. The tour left me feeling like I had a better understanding of the history and development of New York City's Broadway theater district, and, that you're never too old to dress up as one of your favorite Disney characters.